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Western Press Review: Fujimori Withdraws, Yugoslavia Votes

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 18 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The announced withdrawal from political life by Peru's authoritarian President Alberto Fujimori and the run-up to elections in Yugoslavia on Sunday (Sept 24) are grist for the mills of West European editorial pages today.


The Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung comments on Fujimori: "For Peru, only everything depends on how [he] organizes his departure. Is he serious when he claims that he does not want to be a hindrance to guaranteeing clean parliamentary and presidential elections with equal chances for all candidates?" The paper's editorial adds: "The opposition should carefully consider whether one of candidates -- as was true in last spring's election -- should be Alejandro Toledo. In recent months, Toledo has not understood the need to present himself as a trustworthy successor to Fujimori, but rather has proven to be a divisive troublemaker. Polarization and unrest are not what Peru needs to strengthen its democracy."


Austria's Der Standard writes: "It is not clear why the power-loving Fujimori is giving up now. One suspects that Fujimori does not feel safe without his closest and most trusted aide [Vladimiro] Montesino, who ensured his power through bribes, threats and violence. He can no longer hold on to his secret police chief, whom Peru's media now calls a "Mafia gangster" [because of videotape evidence a Montesino agent bribed an opposition candidate] -- certainly not since the United State and the Organization of American States have taken an interest in what has been going on.


A commentary by Ilnur Cevikhe in the Ankara-based English-language Turkish Daily News draws lessons for Turkey from the Fujimori affair: "During the Cold War," he writes. Turkey got away with being 'the odd man out' in Europe and in the NATO alliance as it restricted freedoms and liberties for the sake of fighting 'communist terrorists' and then separatists, and managed to sustain a semi-democratic system."

"But," Cevikhe goes on, "the good old days are over, and Turkey is being required to make the necessary changes to its system to bring it on par with Western democracies. Some people in the Turkish power elites may try to resist this but we, feel they will be fighting an uphill battle. [The] Fujimori example should be a lesson to all those who feel they can resist change and run Turkey with a semi-democratic system. If you do not overhaul your system, international conditions will eventually force you to do so."


Italy's Corriere della Sera of Milan also focuses on the Peruvian events, commenting: "The surprising announcement of early elections reinforces the extent of the scandal that erupted a few days ago. The shift to new elections is more the result of an internal settling of accounts rather than pressure from the opposition. One can see Fujimori's turnaround as the result of a conflict between Fujimori and his secret police chief Montesino or as the result of a clash within the secret service. At any rate, for some time Lima has been rife with talk that Montesino had heavy weapons at hand to blackmail Fujimori."


Spain's conservative daily ABC almost seems sorry to see Fujimori go: "Through his democratic harikiri. Fujimori has failed to notice that he will gain an honorable place in history. He has pulled the secret police along with him in his downfall. There are celebrations in the streets of Peru, the world applauds and the bosses of big international business breathe a sigh of relief. But," the paper adds, "there are those who are not sure how things will turn out. They have good reason for their uncertainty. Peru's future is at stake, and much will depend on whether the secret police chief Montesino, who caused all this havoc, can be neutralized." The paper concludes: "[Montesino] ought to be sent into exile."


The Paris-based International Herald Tribune carries a commentary today by the president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, David Russell-Johnston, on Sunday's presidential, parliamentary and local elections in Yugoslavia. He warns that the elections are "a booby trap for the West: the elections will be neither free nor fair," he says. "That much is already clear." The commentary continues: "[Yugoslavia's] electoral laws are seriously flawed and have been designed to facilitate fraud. There will be no proper international observation. Two essential conditions for free and fair elections, freedom of media and freedom of association, are simply not met. Last week, the country's electoral commission ordered what is left of the independent media to stop distributing what they described as 'political propaganda for the opposition.'"

Russell-Johnston continues: "[Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic will not be playing fair. He never did, at least not voluntarily. We should not dupe ourselves into believing that he could be coerced into conceding defeat as he had been after the municipal elections in 1996. Not after Kosovo and his indictment for war crimes. He has little to win and everything to lose from accepting defeat."

Russell-Johnston concludes: "The most likely outcome is still a fraudulent victory for Mr. Milosevic. It is not in his character to lose. But he did cover all eventualities. When Tito died in 1980, the slogan, 'There will be Tito after Tito,' was created to comfort the bereaved population. What was a propagandist platitude 20 years ago may become a harsh political reality today: Regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming ballot, there will be Milosevic after Milosevic."


A commentary in Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung today is entitled "The Next War." In it, Zagreb publisher Nenad Popovic warns of Milosevic's intentions to seize control of Montenegro after the elections. He writes: "The 'Bosnian scenario' of 1991 and 1992 is repeating itself: the creeping occupation and immobilization of the country by the armed forces until finally the blow to the capital can succeed."

The commentary continues" "The victim's ability to resist will be tested systematically. No-one wants to say aloud that Montenegro is already under martial law; the West is playing down the fact that [President Milo] Djukanovic has no means to defend from an attack. All the country has are police forces. Even their own helicopters can only fly when the [Yugoslav] second army corps allows them to. And once again the West is playing Milosevic's game." Popovic then says: "The object of the aggression once again is a constituent part of Yugoslavia, something that bars any outside interference -- despite the previous catastrophes in Bosnia and Kosovo. As before, it appears impossible from the point of view of international law to threaten Milosevic in time with military consequences. In fact," he adds, "if Milosevic is not stopped today, there will be immense outflows of people -- out of fear of murder and plundering, and of religious and ethnic persecution. In addition to the indigenous Montenegrins, large Albanian, Croatian and Muslim ethnic groups inhabit the country. Thus the well known scenarios for the next 'ethnic cleansing' is set."


In Denmark, the daily Politiken says of Sunday's elections in a editorial: "Milosevic could lose and win at the same time. No one," it writes, "really believes that Milosevic's regime is likely to acknowledge a defeat. Despite [opposition candidate Vojislav] Kostunica's optimism that 'we will get more votes than they can steal,' the government has control over the vote-counting procedures, etc."

The editorial adds: "What really matters is not the election result itself, but the reactions to Milosevic's expected victory. If the opposition in Serbia is strong enough to organize massive popular protests, Milosevic may be confronted with a situation where he will have to fight on two fronts at the same time. But if Serbia remains quiet, he is certain to use the chance to crack down on Montenegro's pro-western government."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contribute to this report.)